Confessions of an Ex-Mile Counter

Mile Counters. You know, that person who obsessively logs their miles – or even worse, logs them on Facebook for all their friends to marvel at. Every runner knows at least one. Many wonder what their problem is. Why so obsessed with the numbers? Can’t they take a day off? Does that tenth of a mile really matter? As a recovered mile counter, please allow me to try and explain by sharing my story.

I am the ideal long-distance runner not because I’m tall, lean, and fast (nope, nope, and nope), but because I am stubborn as hell. I am a model ‘Type A’ personality who approaches my passions with 200% dedication whether it’s my job, love, ice cream, or running. I know no middle ground and find ‘pacing myself’ damn near impossible. This has made me a good marathoner and ultramarathoner, since I’m able to keep going through the pain, but it’s also, unfortunately, made me an expert on running-related injuries.

It was my sophomore year in high school when I first read a blog about keeping a running journal. Of course, I immediately started my own journal, recording my daily mileage with the cross-country team. It was not long before I added an early morning run before school in order to get in 2-3 extra miles a day. Soon, I was tallying my weekly and monthly totals, comparing them and always trying to get more. I dreamed of some day running a 100-mile week.

Some time in college, I found an online running journal that would put your miles into various cool bar graphs, line graphs, or pie charts, making it even easier for me to compare me to myself. And by “compare,” I mean “compete with.” My mile counting had reached the point of addiction, obvious to all but me.

Then along came the worldwide popularity of Facebook. I eventually jumped on the bandwagon but having little else to post about at the time, I started posting my running workouts. My friends’ comments of disbelief and self-deprivation humor (“You ran how many miles? I can’t even drive that far without getting tired!”) only encouraged me to dive farther into my obsession.

Throughout this transition from regular runner to obsessive mile junkie, I had started my career as a writer and got married. My husband supported my running, but often tried to gently encourage me to take a break when it was apparent my body needed it. Like a good modern wife, I never listened.

It wasn’t until I had qualified for the Boston Marathon and was concurrently training for my first half ironman triathlon that I was forced to take a break. Several months of increasing hip pain finally revealed itself to be three stress fractures in my hips – two on the left and one on the right. Reading my mind, the doctor pointed out that if I ignored this issue and ran Boston anyway, he guaranteed my hips would break completely and he would refuse to see me.

I broke down in tears on my drive home that day and shared a bottle of wine with my husband (Okay, I didn’t share) that night as I lamented my frustrations and self-pity. I was not to run a step for two months if I ever wanted to heal properly. Then, I had to begin from square one and work up my mileage very slowly, or I would just end up in the same place again.

As physically and metaphorically painful that those next few months were, they were just the intervention I needed. I gradually allowed myself to focus on other things and found that I do have other interests. Hell, I was even able to make some non-running-related Facebook posts. I had more time to spend with my husband, more time to walk my dogs, and I even got knocked up (a good thing).

I started running again 5 weeks postpartum, but with a drastically different attitude than before. I haven’t logged a single mile. I run whenever I feel like it and for as long as my body feels good. I don’t care what my time or distance is; I just want to be out in the air propelling myself forward. This is working much better for me. I have had no serious injuries in the past despite running marathons and ultramarathons. I am healthier, happier, and enjoying running more than ever, as it is a joyous experience rather than an endless collection of numbers.

By Audra Rundle